Before Jenji Kohan created “Orange is the New Black” and sentenced Netflix watchers to hours of being hypnotized by Piper Kerman, there was Showtime’s “Weeds.” While “Orange is the New Black” takes viewers through life after being caught, “Weeds” brings them through eight seasons of watching Nancy Botwin never get caught, no matter how out-of-control her drug schemes become (the one exception being a brief prison stint at the end of season six, but Nancy manages to make a glamorous exit from this).
“Weeds” is more than a show about a single mom dealing pot. Nancy, her two sons, Silas and Shane, and her brother-in-law, Andy, redefine family and family dysfunction through a series of chaotic moves aimed at avoiding confrontation at all costs. The Botwins take a rollercoaster ride throughout the show’s eight seasons from living a life of extravagance, to barely surviving, and everything in between.
Each character’s experiences illuminate different life troubles, whether it be Andy’s unrequited love for Nancy, Shane and Silas’ struggle to be “normal” in their high school years, or Doug’s (Nancy’s neighbor turned financial supporter) continual disappointment every time one of his get-rich-quick schemes falls through.
The evolution of “Weeds” throughout its eight seasons is exemplified through its ever-changing theme song. “Little Boxes,” originally composed and sung by Malvina Reynolds, introduces us to Agrestic, the cookie-cutter suburb in southern California where the Botwins live. The creepy thought of being surrounded by people made of “ticky-tacky,” as the song describes, gives you a hint as to why the thrill-seeking Nancy feels the need to shake things up with a raving drug business amongst the monotony of suburbia.
The theme song “Little Boxes” of seasons two and three is sung by a variety of popular musical artists, including Elvis Costello, Regina Spektor, Randy Newman, and The Decemberists. All of the new theme song styles seem to represent the plethora of characters coming in to and out of the show: Nancy’s line of husbands (a total of four throughout the series), Silas’ endless girlfriends, and a lovely array of drug lords and DEA agents.
As the tone of the song changes for each episode, so does the tone of the Botwin’s lives. Death Cab for Cutie croons a mellow theme for one episode, setting the calm before the storm. Linkin Park sings the theme song a few episodes later, and you know things are about to get bumpy.
But throughout the development of the show’s crazy plotline (creatively illustrated in cartoon in season eight’s opening credits, which shows all of the places the Botwins have lived by the end of the series), “Weeds” really shines in its use of extremes that stand in contrast to more typical family life. Every time things seem to be getting too crazy to be true (exhibit A: When Nancy dates a DEA agent when she’s at the height of selling weed), the realism in the family dynamic of the Botwins makes it believable.
At first glance, Nancy is the suburban mom who is still stuck in high school in a sense, dressing too young and carrying iced coffee everywhere she goes. It’s not that she doesn’t stand out, but she certainly doesn’t stand out as the drug-dealer type. It’s the wonderful irony of having Nancy worry about whether Silas will get into college while she also worries about whether a drug lord is hunting her down that makes the show so intriguing.
If Nancy’s sarcastic charm isn’t enough to keep you around, then Andy’s bubbling optimism may do the job. Andy brings not only a twist to the nuclear family, as he’s the brother of Nancy’s late first husband, but also a curious cultural element to the show. Throughout the series, he constantly references his family’s Jewish traditions, trying to raise the Jewish family that his brother would have wanted for his wife and sons.
Andy’s attempts to bring spiritual solace to a family whose problems extend far past how to spend the high holidays seem out of place at first, but in fact bring balance to the show. The show becomes less of a drama moving from one gun showdown to the next, and more of a dark family comedy.
While you’re waiting for the release of season two of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, complete your Kohan viewing collection with her first TV gem. “Weeds” is available on Netflix, and you won’t even think twice about clicking the “next episode” button well before that 10-second timer runs out. Eight seasons should be enough to get you until the “Orange” premiere. I challenge you, binge-watching experts, to keep the Kohan flow constant.